Omicron COVID-19 variant detected in more countries as scientists race to find answers


LONDON/AMSTERDAM: The Omicron coronavirus variant spread around the world on Sunday (Nov 28), with new cases found in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia even as more countries imposed travel restriction to try to seal themselves off.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it is not yet clear whether Omicron, first detected in Southern Africa, is more transmissible than other variants, or if it causes more severe disease.

“Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalisation in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection,” WHO said.

WHO said understanding the level of severity of Omicron “will take days to several weeks”.

The detection of Omicron triggered global alarm as governments around the world scrambled to impose new travel restriction and markets sold-off, fearing the variant could resist vaccinations and upend a nascent economic reopening after a two-year global pandemic.

In its statement, the WHO said it was working with technical experts to understand the potential impact of the variant on existing countermeasures against COVID-19, including vaccines.

Britain said it will convene an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday to discuss the developments.

Dutch health authorities said 13 cases of the variant were found among people on two flights that arrived in Amsterdam from South Africa on Friday.

Authorities had tested all of the more than 600 passengers on those two flights and had found 61 coronavirus cases, going on to test those for the new variant.

“This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters in Rotterdam.

Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” last week by the WHO that is potentially more contagious than previous variants, has now been detected in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and South Africa.



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South African scientists detect new variant amid spike: COVID updates


play

Thousands of people traveling for the holidays this week will first test themselves for COVID-19 without a doctor, lab or any medical oversight.

While quick home tests are hailed as a major convenience and a smart way to protect loved ones, they’ve also raised a significant challenge for public health officials. How can agencies comprehensively track cases and trends when many consumers don’t report home test results?

Federal and state health officials have worked since March 2020 to build capacity to test, report and keep tabs on COVID-19 cases. Public health officials say reporting cases is critical for spotting trends and detecting surges so hotspot communities can lessen risk and prepare hospitals for a rush of people seeking care.

But it’s unclear how often customers report results from the dozen authorized home coronavirus tests that typically deliver results in 15 minutes outside a lab or doctor’s office. And public health’s data blind spot is poised to grow larger.

Private test manufacturers already make more home antigen tests than standard laboratory tests — and the gap could nearly double next month as new home tests flood the market.

— Ken Alltucker, USA TODAY

Also in the news:

►Beginning Monday, Massachusetts hospitals will have to cut back on non-urgent scheduled procedures due to staffing shortages and longer patient stays, according to the state’s health authorities.

►The number of air travelers this week is expected to approach or even exceed pre-pandemic levels, and auto club AAA predicts48.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday period.

►More than 100 children at a vaccination event in Iowa on Saturday were given the incorrect dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, according to a statement from the hospital. A MercyOne spokesperson said there are no significant health risks associated with the larger dose, just a likelihood the children will have more severe versions of the common vaccine side effects.

►France has launched a plan Thursday to give COVID-19 booster shots to all adults, as it opted against a further lockdown or curfew to help combat a worrying uptick in infections in the country.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 48 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 775,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 259 million cases and 5.1 million deaths. More than 196 million Americans — 59.1% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we’re reading: During COVID-19, they believed home was safer than school. Now some NYC parents are accused of neglect.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province, Health Minister Joe Phaahla announced Thursday.

The coronavirus evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die out. Scientists monitor for possible changes that could be more transmissible or deadly, but sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time.

South Africa has seen a dramatic rise in new infections, Phaahla said at an online press briefing.

“Over the last four or five days, there has been more of an exponential rise,” he said, adding that the new variant appears to be driving the spike in cases. Scientists in South Africa are working to determine what percentage of the new cases have been caused by the new variant.

Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travelers from South Africa, he said.

The WHO’s technical working group is to meet Friday to assess the new variant and may decide whether or not to give it a name from the Greek alphabet.

— Associated Press

Just over nine out of ten federal employees have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the required deadline, the Biden administration announced Wednesday when releasing agency-by-agency vaccination rates.

Those rates were as high as 97.8% at the Agency for International Development. Workers at the Agriculture Department had the lowest rate: 86.1%.

Federal employees had until the end of Monday to get vaccinated or request a medical or religious exemption. Unlike a rule the Biden administration wants to impose on private employers, federal workers are not allowed to opt out of the vaccine requirement if they agree to weekly testing.

Workers who are not in the process of getting vaccinated or seeking an exemption will begin a “period of education and counseling, followed by additional enforcement steps,” according to the White House.

— Maureen Groppe and Michael Collins, USA TODAY

European Unions’ drug regulator approves Pfizer vaccine for young children

The European Union’s drug regulator cleared the way for children ages 5 to 11 to begin receiving the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on Thursday amid a new wave of infections across the continent.

The European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee, an EU agency in charge of the evaluation and supervision of medicinal products, concluded that the benefits of vaccinating children outweigh the risks. The European committee will send its recommendation to the European Commission next, which will issue a final decision.

Germany has been facing its worst surge of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, reporting more than 333,000 cases the week of Nov. 15, according to the World Health Organization. That’s nearly double the weekly rate reported during a prior surge in December 2020.

— Celina Tebor, USA TODAY

German Chancellor Angela Merkel labeled Thursday “a very sad day” and backed calls for more restrictions, as her country became the latest to surpass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

The national disease control agency said it recorded 351 deaths in connection with the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, taking the total toll to 100,119. In Europe, Germany is the fifth country to pass that mark, after Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy and France.

The longtime German leader, who is currently in office as caretaker until her successor is sworn in, warned that hundreds more deaths were already looming.

“(The deaths) correlate very clearly with the number of infections that are occurring,” she said. “We know how many people on average do not survive this disease.”

The Robert Koch Institute, a federal agency that collects data from some 400 regional health offices, said Germany set a record for daily confirmed cases — 75,961 — in the past 24-hour period. Since the start of the outbreak, Germany has had more than 5.57 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.

— Associated Press

Despite early signs that suggested the U.S. may have avoided another winter surge, COVID-19 cases are rising again.

The country reported 665,420 cases in the week ending Monday, more than a 30% increase from the pace of cases reported about a month ago, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data.

As cases rise in 39 states, U.S. Health and Human Services data show hospitals in 32 states admitted more patients in the latest week than the week before.

“Quite frankly, I’m really concerned,” said Danielle Ompad, associate professor of epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. “I would say we are better off than we were last year, but cases are starting to tick up and that is something that we really need to keep an eye on.”

After nearly two years of combating COVID-19, health experts thought the U.S. would have been in a better position to control the pandemic. Instead, many people remain unvaccinated and ignore mitigation measures, slowing the pace of progress and burning out health care professionals. 

— Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press



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Shock Over Earth's 'cosmic Yo-yo' As Planet TIPS On Its Side And Leaves Scientists Baffled – – Todayuknews



Shock Over Earth’s ‘cosmic Yo-yo’ As Planet TIPS On Its Side And Leaves Scientists Baffled –  Todayuknews



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News Tip: Neglecting India Puts The World At Risk, Scientists Say


Summary: The COVID-19 outbreak in India could become a regional disaster and affect the availability of vaccines and other medicines worldwide if the international community does not act, and the world has a responsibility to address a humanitarian crisis that could easily spread, scientists say.

The following comments from Duke University professors Manoj Mohanan, a health economist, and Dr. Gavin Yamey, a professor of global health and public policy, are available for use in your coverage. Mohanan and Yamey were among the authors of a new commentary calling on the global community to help India’s response in The Lancet medical journal.

Quotes:
“The most urgent need is to save lives by expanding health-care capacity,” says Manoj Mohanan, a health economist at Duke University. “India needs donations of oxygen concentrators, ventilators, medications, vaccines, high-quality personal protective equipment and SARS-CoV-2 rapid diagnostic tests.”

“India is one of the world’s largest producers of vaccines, generic medications, antiretrovirals, and tuberculosis medications,” says Dr. Gavin Yamey, a professor of global health at Duke. “The global supply chain for these medications is likely to be disrupted by the crisis in India. The international community must step in to fill the gaps and ensure that global supply chains of medications are not derailed.”

“India’s COVID-19 surge could become a regional disaster impacting all of south Asia,” Mohanan said. “Strengthening of surveillance systems, travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine for individuals traveling from India must be implemented to help control the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to neighboring countries.”

Bios:
Manoj Mohanan
Manoj Mohanan is a health economist and an associate professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy, the Duke Global Health Institute and Economics Department at Duke. His recent research includes estimating the true number of COVID cases in India.

Dr. Gavin Yamey
Dr. Gavin Yamey is a professor of the practice of global health and public policy at the Duke Global Health Institute. He is also director of the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health at Duke, which addresses challenges in financing and delivering global health. Yamey co-created a mechanism to help ensure equitable distribution of COVID vaccines.

For additional comment:
[email protected]
[email protected]


Media Contact:
Gregory Phillips
(919) 452-3120; [email protected]

_        _        _        _

Duke experts on a variety of topics can be found here.

Follow Duke News on Twitter: @DukeNews





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Traffic light travel plan will let new Covid variants into UK, scientists warn | Coronavirus


It is inevitable that new Covid variants will continue to enter the country, scientists warned this weekend, claiming there are “obvious flaws” in the government’s system for reopening international travel to and from England.

On Friday ministers decreed that some international travel could resume from 17 May, with travellers from England allowed to return from “green list” destinations without needing to quarantine. Portugal and Israel are on the list, along with South Georgia, the Faroe Islands and the Falklands.

However, it is understood that members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) are concerned that the government’s traffic light system amounts to “window dressing” and is not based on evidence about the risks of the spread of variants.

These concerns are shared by other scientists such as Professor Martin Hibberd, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who told the Observer that more testing was necessary before international travel should be allowed to reopen. With the current approach, it was inevitable that new variants would enter the country, he said.

“While in the UK, we look forward to less disease and fewer restrictions, this is not the case in most of the world. Indeed, for many countries infections are likely to come in waves for at least another year and perhaps longer. As a result, imports are likely to become an increasingly important part of new transmissions circulating within the UK. We should develop an effective strategy to cope with the competing desires to allow international travel, while keeping circulating virus in the UK to a minimum.

“From my infectious disease perspective, for travel, I would like to see more testing, preferably with professionally taken swabs, and more support for quarantining, at home when it is possible – and which can be verified for compliance – together with an effective tracing programme.”

This point was backed by another LSHTM expert, Martin McKee, professor of European public health. “If everyone from England going to Portugal was only mixing with people from Portugal, that would be one thing. But if you go to a Portuguese resort, it is likely you would be mixing with people from other places.

“The criterion you should be looking at is not the infection rate and vaccination rate in the host country, but among the people who you’re likely to be mixing with. It’s an obvious flaw. And if you’re going to be transiting through any airport, you’re going to be mixing with people who are going to be coming from other places.”

As a result, some health experts have called for holidays abroad to be subject to strict controls. Gurch Randhawa, professor of diversity in public health at the University of Bedfordshire, said people should only take holidays in the UK at present.

“Permitting overseas holidays without universal quarantine measures for all countries is not a risk we should take,” he said. “Without strict measures we will have more Covid-19 deaths in the coming months because of imported variants, as vaccines have reduced efficacy against some of these different strains.”

These warnings were made as travel firms hailed their best day for holiday sales in months. Tui, the UK’s largest holiday company, said it had seen a huge increase in bookings with 60% of all holidays sold on Friday being trips to Portugal.

The firm added that new flights and extra holidays had been added for people who wanted to “get away as quickly as possible”. Similarly, Thomas Cook said holidays to Portugal had been its “number one seller” since the government made its announcement about foreign travel.

In contrast to the warnings made by some UK scientists, Clive Dix – who recently stood down as interim head of the British vaccine taskforce – said he thought there would be “no circulating virus in the UK” by August. He told the Telegraph that the UK vaccination programme would “have probably protected the population from all the variants that are known” which meant that the country would be “safe over the coming winter”.



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New, preclinical technique gives scientists a 3D, in vivo picture of intestinal motility disorders


Researchers can get more useful data on the brain-gut connection from a new method utilizing Raspberry Pi and near-infrared imaging technologies

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Some of the most intractable gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, are motility disorders, where the contents of the intestines don’t proceed normally through the GI tract. Such disorders are known to have a strong brain-microbiome connection, but preclinical research has typically been limited to in vitro studies or anesthetized animal models, neither of which provide a realistic picture of gut motility.

Now, University at Buffalo researchers may have solved that problem with a technique called transillumination intestine projection (TIP) imaging, which  they described in a recent Nature Communications paper. For the first time, this technique reveals how food moves through the gut in free-moving animals in real time.

The new method makes use of Raspberry Pi technology, the credit card-sized computer now ubiquitous in applications ranging from education to digital media to research.

“For the first time, TIP allows us to see intestinal motility in a freely moving mouse in 3D and in color,” said Jun Xia, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at UB.

“TIP has great potential to help us understand the mechanisms of motility control and discover the pathophysiology of motility disorders,” he said.

Psychosocial factors and gut motility

TIP makes possible a better understanding of psychosocial factors, such as stress and anxiety, that are known to affect intestinal motility through the brain and gut connection, Xia continued.

“Patients with anxiety and depression are more likely to have functional GI problems and to exhibit motility issues, such as slower or faster intestinal movement or irregular movement,” said Xia. “However, it is unclear how stress affects the GI function, and it is not easy to study in humans. Studying intestinal motility in animal models can lead to a better understanding of abnormal motility and how the gut-brain connection works.

“Because the TIP system allows for the imaging of freely moving animals, we can better investigate how brain functioning/status affects the gut movement,” he said.

Until now, many such studies involved studying intestinal motility in anesthetized animals, which, the UB study has revealed, results in slowing down motility.

A key advantage of TIP is that it allows for the visualization of peristalsis and segmentation, the motor activity that occurs in the intestine in awake, free-moving mice, which has never been reported before.

“This unique imaging ability facilitates the in vivo demonstration that the anesthetized mice exhibited a much slower intestinal motility rate than the awake mice, highlighting its ability to study central nervous system regulation,” Xia explained.

Similar to a barium X-ray, but better

The idea behind TIP is similar to a barium X-ray, where the patient ingests barium, which illuminates the GI system as it is digested. Before the TIP experiment, the mouse is fed a light-absorbing material that can safely travel through the intestine without being absorbed by it. Instead of an X-ray, the UB researchers used near-infrared light, which doesn’t contain ionizing radiation and is safe for imaging over long periods of time.

“The process is similar to how we conduct color photography,” Xia explained. “By imaging the mice with matching wavelengths, we can then form a colorful image of the intestine, showing how different contrasts are mixed and moved inside the intestine. This is different from the barium X-ray, where the contrast is only shown in black.”

TIP provides 3D imaging of the intestine. Whereas conventional cameras detect only the light intensity, allowing for a 2D image, the light field technology used in TIP allows for the acquisition of both light intensity and the light incident direction.

“Combining intensity and direction information allows us to digitally refocus the imaging plane at different depths, which offers a 3D view of intestinal motility,” Xia explained.

By using the Raspberry Pi device, the TIP technique can track mouse movement, so that the fiber tip that is illuminating the intestine is always on top of the animal body. The Raspberry Pi device tracks the position of the animal body and then instructs the motor to move the fiber tip accordingly, Xia explained.

He concluded: “The ability to view intestinal motility in 3D in conscious animals will make it possible to do more robust preclinical studies on how motility is affected by pharmacological agents under investigation as potential treatments for humans.”

UB co-authors are Depeng Wang, Huijuan Zhang, Tri Vu, Ye Zhan, Upendra Chitgupi, Sizhe Zhang and Jonathan F. Lovell. Additional co-authors are Akash Malhotra, Pei Wang, Aliza Rai, Lidai Wang and Jan D. Huizinga.



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350K to be tested in doorstep blitz as scientists fear real case numbers could be 20x higher


A DOOR-to-door testing blitz on up to 350,000 people has been launched after 11 rogue cases of Covid’s South African mutation were found in the UK.

Officials have been unable to link any of the infected Brits to foreign travel, suggesting they picked it up here.

? Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates

Volunteers and a police officer gathered in Surrey this morning for a briefing at Woking Fire station as they prepare to administer tests to people in the area

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Volunteers and a police officer gathered in Surrey this morning for a briefing at Woking Fire station as they prepare to administer tests to people in the area Credit: London News Pictures

Residents in eight English postcodes from Surrey to Merseyside are being urged to get swabbed over the next fortnight.

Mobile units have been scrambled, while council officials will knock on doors offering kits to locals.

Authorities are anxious to suppress any spread amid fears vaccination will prove less effective against the variant.

It is more contagious than the original, but there is no evidence it is deadlier.

Speaking last night at the No 10 briefing, Matt Hancock pledged to “come down hard” on the strain.

The Health Secretary said it is “imperative” those in affected areas stay in and stick to the rules.

He warned: “This is a stark reminder the fight against this virus isn’t over yet.”

In total, 105 cases of the South African strain have been found in Britain since late December.

Residents in Ealing were seen taking tests this morning

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Residents in Ealing were seen taking tests this morning Credit: London News Pictures
Signs warn drivers to the latest risk in East London

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Signs warn drivers to the latest risk in East LondonCredit: Jeff Moore
Mass Covid testing will be carried out in various parts of the country, including Woking

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Mass Covid testing will be carried out in various parts of the country, including WokingCredit: Reuters
It comes after 11 people tested positive for the South African strain in the UK

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It comes after 11 people tested positive for the South African strain in the UKCredit: Reuters
Health Secretary Matt Hancock vowed to 'come down hard' on the new strain

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock vowed to ‘come down hard’ on the new strainCredit: PA:Press Association

Most have links abroad, but 11 do not.

Scientists warn these could be the tip of the iceberg, with the real total up to 20 times higher. Only up to ten per cent of positive tests are “gene- sequenced” to look for variants.

This is a stark reminder the fight against this virus isn’t over yet.

Matt Hancock

Paul Hunter, the University of East Anglia’s professor of medicine, said: “The fact we are only doing surveillance on a minority of infections almost certainly means we have more cases in the UK.

“The concern is it is more contagious and also more resistant to vaccine.”

But Mr Hancock insisted the UK was working hard to stop it.

He said: “I strongly urge everyone in these areas to get tested, whether you have symptoms or not.

“A mutation in one part of the world is a threat to people everywhere. We need to come down on it hard, and we will.

“We’ve already made sure that all these cases are isolating, and that we’ve done enhanced contact tracing.

Q&A

Q: WHAT IS THE NEW VARIANT?

A: The B.1.351 South African variant is a new strain of the coronavirus with eight mutations. It was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in October 2020. It now makes up more than 90 per cent of Covid cases in South Africa and has spread to 20 more countries, including the UK.

Q: WHY IS IT SO CONTAGIOUS?

A: It spreads about 60-70 per cent faster than the original strain. This is because it can bind to human cells quickly and infect them more easily due to its mutations.

Q: WHY ARE WE MORE WORRIED ABOUT IT?

A: The speed of its spread means that if we don’t contain an outbreak quickly there would likely be a spike in cases and the NHS might become overwhelmed again. It is also thought that Covid-19 vaccines may be less effective against it.

Q: IS IT MORE DEADLY THAN THE ORIGINAL STRAIN?

A: It is not currently thought to be more deadly. Although it spreads faster, there is not enough data to suggest it causes more deaths or hospitalisations.

Q: HOW CAN WE STOP IT?

A: We have banned travellers from coming into England from South Africa. If they are still able to enter the country, as British and Irish nationals are, they must self-isolate for ten days. The vaccine roll-out will also provide ­immunity against the strain, although ­potentially at a lower level.

Q: WHAT DO I DO IF I LIVE IN A POSTCODE AREA WHERE THERE ARE CASES OF THIS VARIANT FOUND?

A: You must take up any offer of tests given to you ­— either from a door knock or a mobile test centre. If you have any symptoms or test positive you must isolate. Otherwise, continue washing hands, covering your face and giving space.

Volunteers were seen setting up in Ealing this morning

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Volunteers were seen setting up in Ealing this morning Credit: London News Pictures

“We’re surging extra testing into the areas where this variant has been found and sequencing every single positive case. Working with local authorities, we’re going door to door to test people.”

Transmission has been found at eight postcodes — in London, Surrey, Kent, Hertfordshire, the West Midlands and Merseyside.

All 350,000 locals will be offered a test over the next fortnight.

Travellers from South Africa have already been barred from entering England since December 23.

The fire station in Woking which is being used as a pop-up Covid test centre

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The fire station in Woking which is being used as a pop-up Covid test centre Credit: London News Pictures
A worker collects a swab from a car window at a test centre in Goldsworth Park, Surrey, where two cases of the South African strain were detected

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A worker collects a swab from a car window at a test centre in Goldsworth Park, Surrey, where two cases of the South African strain were detectedCredit: Reuters
A man takes a swab at a test centre in Goldsworth Park, Surrey

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A man takes a swab at a test centre in Goldsworth Park, SurreyCredit: Reuters

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, told the No 10 press conference: “These cases are in quite separate parts of the country and they are more likely to be related to somebody who potentially had asymptomatic infection when they came in from abroad.

“We are looking to find extra cases in the community to see where we can find links and to try and close down and eliminate the transmission between people.”

It could spell bad news for Brits planning to go abroad this summer, as stopping variants was the key reason travel restrictions came in.

A Government source said: “We have to wait and see how effective vaccination is against transmission. If it works at stopping spread, we can open up sooner.”

‘Surge testing’ postcode roll out

These are the postcodes that will be given additional testing:

  • W7 – Greenford, Brentford, Ealing, London
  • N17 – Tottenham
  • CR4 – Mitcham
  • WS2 – Walsall, Willenhall in West Mids
  • EN10 – Broxbourne, Cheshunt, Hoddesdon, Nazeing, Wormley West End
  • ME15 – Maidstone, Bearsted, Coxheath, East Farleigh, Otham, West Farleigh, Downswood, Hunton, Loose, Leeds in Kent
  • GU21 – Woking, Knaphill, Ottershaw, Sheerwater in Surrey
  • PR9 – Southport, Lancashire, Burscough, Scarisbrick, Banks in Lancashire/ Merseyside

 

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The PM said yesterday: “I think everybody understands the need for tough border controls whilst there is a risk of new variants.”

But he played down fears jabs will be ineffective against them.

On a visit to the Al Hikmah vaccination centre in Batley, West Yorks, Mr Johnson said: “We are confident all the vaccines we are using provide a high degree of immunity and protection against all variants.”

He said they could be adapted if necessary — but experts remain fearful. South Africa’s is a concern after a study showed its resistance to past infection immunity.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned it could be “a virus that can escape some of the immune effects of antibodies”.

Novavax’s jab was also 60 per cent effective in South African trials, compared with 89 per cent here.

Janssen’s was 72 per cent effective in US-based studies, falling to 57 per cent in South Africa.

Pfizer’s trials predate the mutation, but its scientists have since revealed they think it will be effective, as do Moderna’s.

Boris Johnson visits a vaccination centre in Batley, West Yorkshire

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Boris Johnson visits a vaccination centre in Batley, West YorkshireCredit: AP:Associated Press

What Covid strains are in the UK?

Dr Simon Clarke, Professor in Cellular Microbiology at Reading University, said: “This variant appears to spread rapidly and evidence is emerging to suggest it is less susceptible to immunity induced by current vaccines.

“The discovery of a handful of cases with no links to travel to Africa indicates it might be more widespread than previously thought.

“This spread, even if small in scale, needs to be brought under control quickly.”

The Sun says

NOTHING must undermine the extraordinary success of our vaccine rollout.

That means combating anti-vax idiots, among them the President of France, spreading lies about AstraZeneca’s jab.

It means encouraging the ethnic minority community leaders already doing admirable work to convince those who still doubt the vaccines’ safety.

But it must surely mean closing our borders, temporarily but immediately, not just to countries deemed higher risk but to all (with a small number of exemptions for certain jobs).

We are told our jabs should work against the worrying South African Covid variant. But Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s insistence that those in certain postcodes get tested, even without symptoms, betrays his nervousness.

Other new strains must be kept out, especially with so many still unjabbed.

Every day, that number falls at a fantastic rate. Almost a million people were inoculated at the weekend alone.

That, like Britain’s commitment to donate excess vaccines to nations in need, is a cause for huge pride.

We must do nothing to set it back.

Boris Johnson confident all Covid vaccines provide high protection against all variants and they will develop





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350K to be tested in doorstep blitz as scientists fear real case numbers could be 20x higher


A DOOR-to-door testing blitz on up to 350,000 people has been launched after 11 rogue cases of Covid’s South African mutation were found in the UK.

Officials have been unable to link any of the infected Brits to foreign travel, suggesting they picked it up here.

? Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates

Mass Covid testing will be carried out in various parts of the country, including Woking

10

Mass Covid testing will be carried out in various parts of the country, including WokingCredit: Reuters
Signs warn drivers to the latest risk in East London

10

Signs warn drivers to the latest risk in East LondonCredit: Jeff Moore

Residents in eight English postcodes from Surrey to Merseyside are being urged to get swabbed over the next fortnight.

Mobile units have been scrambled, while council officials will knock on doors offering kits to locals.

Authorities are anxious to suppress any spread amid fears vaccination will prove less effective against the variant.

It is more contagious than the original, but there is no evidence it is deadlier.

Speaking last night at the No 10 briefing, Matt Hancock pledged to “come down hard” on the strain.

The Health Secretary said it is “imperative” those in affected areas stay in and stick to the rules.

He warned: “This is a stark reminder the fight against this virus isn’t over yet.”

In total, 105 cases of the South African strain have been found in Britain since late December.

It comes after 11 people tested positive for the South African strain in the UK

10

It comes after 11 people tested positive for the South African strain in the UKCredit: Reuters
Health Secretary Matt Hancock vowed to 'come down hard' on the new strain

10

Health Secretary Matt Hancock vowed to ‘come down hard’ on the new strainCredit: PA:Press Association
10,000 test kits were readied for delivery at Woking fire station

10

10,000 test kits were readied for delivery at Woking fire stationCredit: London News Pictures

Most have links abroad, but 11 do not.

Scientists warn these could be the tip of the iceberg, with the real total up to 20 times higher. Only up to ten per cent of positive tests are “gene- sequenced” to look for variants.

This is a stark reminder the fight against this virus isn’t over yet.

Matt Hancock

Paul Hunter, the University of East Anglia’s professor of medicine, said: “The fact we are only doing surveillance on a minority of infections almost certainly means we have more cases in the UK.

“The concern is it is more contagious and also more resistant to vaccine.”

But Mr Hancock insisted the UK was working hard to stop it.

He said: “I strongly urge everyone in these areas to get tested, whether you have symptoms or not.

“A mutation in one part of the world is a threat to people everywhere. We need to come down on it hard, and we will.

“We’ve already made sure that all these cases are isolating, and that we’ve done enhanced contact tracing.

Q&A

Q: WHAT IS THE NEW VARIANT?

A: The B.1.351 South African variant is a new strain of the coronavirus with eight mutations. It was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in October 2020. It now makes up more than 90 per cent of Covid cases in South Africa and has spread to 20 more countries, including the UK.

Q: WHY IS IT SO CONTAGIOUS?

A: It spreads about 60-70 per cent faster than the original strain. This is because it can bind to human cells quickly and infect them more easily due to its mutations.

Q: WHY ARE WE MORE WORRIED ABOUT IT?

A: The speed of its spread means that if we don’t contain an outbreak quickly there would likely be a spike in cases and the NHS might become overwhelmed again. It is also thought that Covid-19 vaccines may be less effective against it.

Q: IS IT MORE DEADLY THAN THE ORIGINAL STRAIN?

A: It is not currently thought to be more deadly. Although it spreads faster, there is not enough data to suggest it causes more deaths or hospitalisations.

Q: HOW CAN WE STOP IT?

A: We have banned travellers from coming into England from South Africa. If they are still able to enter the country, as British and Irish nationals are, they must self-isolate for ten days. The vaccine roll-out will also provide ­immunity against the strain, although ­potentially at a lower level.

Q: WHAT DO I DO IF I LIVE IN A POSTCODE AREA WHERE THERE ARE CASES OF THIS VARIANT FOUND?

A: You must take up any offer of tests given to you ­— either from a door knock or a mobile test centre. If you have any symptoms or test positive you must isolate. Otherwise, continue washing hands, covering your face and giving space.

A worker collects a swab from a car window at a test centre in Goldsworth Park, Surrey, where two cases of the South African strain were detected

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A worker collects a swab from a car window at a test centre in Goldsworth Park, Surrey, where two cases of the South African strain were detectedCredit: Reuters
A man takes a swab at a test centre in Goldsworth Park, Surrey

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A man takes a swab at a test centre in Goldsworth Park, SurreyCredit: Reuters

“We’re surging extra testing into the areas where this variant has been found and sequencing every single positive case. Working with local authorities, we’re going door to door to test people.”

Transmission has been found at eight postcodes — in London, Surrey, Kent, Hertfordshire, the West Midlands and Merseyside.

All 350,000 locals will be offered a test over the next fortnight.

Travellers from South Africa have already been barred from entering England since December 23.

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, told the No 10 press conference: “These cases are in quite separate parts of the country and they are more likely to be related to somebody who potentially had asymptomatic infection when they came in from abroad.

“We are looking to find extra cases in the community to see where we can find links and to try and close down and eliminate the transmission between people.”

It could spell bad news for Brits planning to go abroad this summer, as stopping variants was the key reason travel restrictions came in.

A Government source said: “We have to wait and see how effective vaccination is against transmission. If it works at stopping spread, we can open up sooner.”

‘Surge testing’ postcode roll out

These are the postcodes that will be given additional testing:

  • W7 – Greenford, Brentford, Ealing, London
  • N17 – Tottenham
  • CR4 – Mitcham
  • WS2 – Walsall, Willenhall in West Mids
  • EN10 – Broxbourne, Cheshunt, Hoddesdon, Nazeing, Wormley West End
  • ME15 – Maidstone, Bearsted, Coxheath, East Farleigh, Otham, West Farleigh, Downswood, Hunton, Loose, Leeds in Kent
  • GU21 – Woking, Knaphill, Ottershaw, Sheerwater in Surrey
  • PR9 – Southport, Lancashire, Burscough, Scarisbrick, Banks in Lancashire/ Merseyside

 

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The PM said yesterday: “I think everybody understands the need for tough border controls whilst there is a risk of new variants.”

But he played down fears jabs will be ineffective against them.

On a visit to the Al Hikmah vaccination centre in Batley, West Yorks, Mr Johnson said: “We are confident all the vaccines we are using provide a high degree of immunity and protection against all variants.”

He said they could be adapted if necessary — but experts remain fearful. South Africa’s is a concern after a study showed its resistance to past infection immunity.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned it could be “a virus that can escape some of the immune effects of antibodies”.

Novavax’s jab was also 60 per cent effective in South African trials, compared with 89 per cent here.

Janssen’s was 72 per cent effective in US-based studies, falling to 57 per cent in South Africa.

Pfizer’s trials predate the mutation, but its scientists have since revealed they think it will be effective, as do Moderna’s.

Boris Johnson visits a vaccination centre in Batley, West Yorkshire

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Boris Johnson visits a vaccination centre in Batley, West YorkshireCredit: AP:Associated Press

What Covid strains are in the UK?

Dr Simon Clarke, Professor in Cellular Microbiology at Reading University, said: “This variant appears to spread rapidly and evidence is emerging to suggest it is less susceptible to immunity induced by current vaccines.

“The discovery of a handful of cases with no links to travel to Africa indicates it might be more widespread than previously thought.

“This spread, even if small in scale, needs to be brought under control quickly.”

The Sun says

NOTHING must undermine the extraordinary success of our vaccine rollout.

That means combating anti-vax idiots, among them the President of France, spreading lies about AstraZeneca’s jab.

It means encouraging the ethnic minority community leaders already doing admirable work to convince those who still doubt the vaccines’ safety.

But it must surely mean closing our borders, temporarily but immediately, not just to countries deemed higher risk but to all (with a small number of exemptions for certain jobs).

We are told our jabs should work against the worrying South African Covid variant. But Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s insistence that those in certain postcodes get tested, even without symptoms, betrays his nervousness.

Other new strains must be kept out, especially with so many still unjabbed.

Every day, that number falls at a fantastic rate. Almost a million people were inoculated at the weekend alone.

That, like Britain’s commitment to donate excess vaccines to nations in need, is a cause for huge pride.

We must do nothing to set it back.

Boris Johnson confident all Covid vaccines provide high protection against all variants and they will develop





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